Educated, (Book Review)

When I started reading Educated: A Memoir, by Tara Westover, I was expecting a story about a homeschooler–an unschooled, perhaps. Within a few pages I realized my error; this was no homeschooling family she belonged to.

Tara was born into and raised in a very dysfunctional and dangerous environment within a large family ruled by fear of their mentally ill father. As she described her experiences out in the wilderness of Utah, her and other family members’ scrapes with death, how her father treated them, and how she perceived these experiences, I just shook my head. This was her normal.

She was indoctrinated to think anything else was “of the devil” or “worldly”, due to her father’s mix of Mormonism and mental illness. I kept wanting her mother to stand up to him, but she rarely did. I cheered when Tara finally escaped in her late teens to attend college, and couldn’t believe it each time she returned to her family home over and over again. Her education outside of her home life, over time, had enough of an effect that she came to view life, religion and the meaning of family differently, but I don’t know if any education could ever erase the effect of those deep roots of shame, guilt, neglect, abuse that she suffered.

I am thankful Tara was able to share her story with the world, that she could find enough courage within herself to walk away from everything she knew and start again. If you haven’t already, you will hear a lot about Educated this year. I suggest you pick up a copy and read it for yourself.

* I was given a free e-copy of this book by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are completely my own.

Song of a Captive Bird (Book Review)

When I requested this book, Song of a Captive Bird, by Jasmin Darznik, from NetGalley, I knew I’d be in for a reading adventure. I know nothing about Iranian poets, past or present, and not much about Iranian history or culture. Because this was about a poet from Iran, Forugh Farrokhzad, who was also a woman drew me to it–that and the title. The book read a bit like a movie, opening with a mysterious and violent scene that became clear as the story continued and the cultural traditions and expectations were explained.

As it takes place in the fifties and sixties, in a land very far away and different from my own, there was much to be discovered about the way people lived and thought about life in general, and about women, in particular. Forugh suffered at the hands of men–her father, her husband, her lovers, and a male-dominated publishing industry. Her suffering marked her, but her resilience and independent spirit shaped her into who she became. Again and again she defies cultural expectations and pioneers a path for herself and women after her with the words she writes, her work in film, and the way she lives. The poetry that is woven into the chapters is exquisite; I savored the lines and felt closer to the woman whose story was being told.

In addition to learning a bit about Iranian women struggling to become respected and independent during that time period, I learned something of the struggle for Iranians to own their oil and of the violent political turmoil of those days. To me, Forugh is a symbol of progress, of the artistic voice that speaks in every culture and time period, and of every woman working toward being respected and heard with equality.

Reading this book stirred up a desire to read Iranian poetry, of which I am unfamiliar. If you’re like me and know little to nothing about Iranian history and culture, and particularly, Iranian poetry, then I recommend you read this story and start your own journey of discovery.

*I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

 

These Days of Christmas

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Dusk is falling on this second day of Christmas. Yesterday and last night, an Arctic chill blew strong and settled in, seeping through the cracks of this old house. Christmas Day was a quiet delight of waking up late, savoring coffee, opening gifts and talking. At noon, my kids joined us, opening all their gifts and giving us theirs.

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My library never felt so full of cheer and purpose as the kids tore through the presents and littered the floor with wrapping paper, sipped egg nog, and laughed and joked as they tried on new sneakers or tried out drum sticks, in Judah’s case.

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Our homemade meal of pasta with fresh marinara sauce, sautéed ginger-garlic broccoli, flounder, garlic bread and pomegranate margaritas (and sparkling grape juice for the kids) provided a simple means of celebration of the day.

Though the wind continued to whip wildly through the trees and blow snow around, the sun shone and gave a sparkly sense of magic to our White Christmas.

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I sit at my desk and feel the frosty nip on nose and fingers. Evening will most likely be quiet, as none of our kids are here. Alan and I will work in separate rooms, he sketching for a massive order of cards, me writing and planning products to make for my business. Today, my certificate of authority to collect sales tax arrived from New York State; I feel even more officially a business owner than when I obtained my DBA.

I ask the questions every purveyor of goods and maker of anything wish they had the answer to: what do people really want? At the few craft shows where I was a vendor this past fall, people wanted flax and lavender pillows and liked lotions, balms and creams. An occasional sale was for a decorative item, but most were for body care items.

So that is what I’ll focus on this next quarter; however, I want a few beautiful and cute things to draw folks to my displays. I want to branch into paper art cards and aromatherapy bracelets as well as beeswax wraps, garlands and hopefully some watercolor cards or small paintings.

I need to brainstorm, make lists, make a schedule and get going. My bullet journal for 2018 should arrive on Friday, but in the meantime I will make use of the extra pages in my 2017 journal. I will be reading a few new-to-me books on creativity, marketing and entrepreneurialism:

The Strategic Storyteller: Content Marketing in the Age of the Educated Consumer by Alexander Jutkowitz

Entrepreneurial You: Monetize Your Expertise, Create Multiple Income Streams, and Thrive by Dorie Clark, and

Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon.


I’ll also be revisiting one of my favorite books on creativity: Todd Henry’s The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice. Here are some excerpts from this perennial favorite of mine: In regards to the fear of failure, he says, “A lifetime of mediocrity is a high price to pay for safety. Paranoia undoes greatness. You need to push through those places where it’s easier to gravitate toward comfort instead of aggressively pursuing your best work.” (p. 56) His chapter on energy management opened my eyes to how it affects creativity. “Creative work requires that we stay ahead of our work,” says Henry.

Tomorrow’s ideas are the result of today’s intentions. When you rely on a ‘just-in-time’ workflow, you will quickly find it difficult to do quality work–and you’ll also find yourself lacking the drive to do anything about it…energy management will require the most discipline if we want to change our habits and restructure our life in a healthy way. Striking the right balance when instilling practices around energy management will feel a little uncomfortable, perhaps even painful, at first. But experiencing the results of effective energy management makes these practices worth all the temporary discomfort.” (p.117) Chapter 9 has a weekly, monthly and quarterly checkpoint, which has questions to ask oneself in order to help redirect, focus and challenge growth. Just riffling through this book reminds me how much I need to reread it!

As this year slowly winds to an end, I hope you’ll find the time to recast your vision for your life, to redirect and focus your energy and creativity, and to challenge yourself in new ways. Stay tuned this week as I will be announcing the first in a series of book giveaways!

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Shortie Book Review

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I went out on a limb and read a book outside my comfort zone: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. The reason it’s not the type of fiction I would usually pick up is that the story starts with a child’s death. Although I haven’t yet taken Anne Bogel’s reader personality quiz, I have a feeling I read fiction to escape. And hopefully to escape into a world that differs from my own–adventure, danger, foreign countries, suspense, bravery, etc.

This book began with the worst thing any parent could imagine: experiencing the death of a child, so I expected if it started from an extremely low point, it had to get better. To her credit, Ng writes in a graceful, fluid style that is easy to read and soothing to a lover of words. The story is basically about one family’s dysfunction and the heart-heavy path each one takes as they find a way to keep on living after their daughter and sister’s death. I didn’t really relish being the observer of their grief process. I never enjoy sad books, especially if they’re fiction, because I become too emotionally involved in their fictional lives. It takes a toll on me and I feel like everyday life does that already.

Anyway, if you like sad stories with a glimmer of hope at the end, this one might be for you. If you aren’t great at handling dark and oppressive family dramas, then skip this one.

Three Books I’ll Read This Advent

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A friend asked me for Advent recommendations today, so I thought I’d share them here. I learned about Advent when my children were little because I was looking for ways to make our Christmas traditions richer and not simply about getting gifts.

Because I wasn’t raised in a Catholic or a Protestant mainline church, I never knew about the tradition of Advent and how it could make the season longer, filled with greater anticipation and really, more meaningful. I entered into this willingly. I realize if one was dragged to church and didn’t connect the ritual with the symbolism and it didn’t mean anything significant, it would be a dull and empty tradition. I never wanted that for myself or my children. Most of the people I knew when I started this journey didn’t understand what Advent was or why it was important. I brought it up once a year as I built this tradition into our own family life. We used a few different wreaths to light candles, finally settling on this wooden one, handmade by Ann Voskamp’s son.

This year, I purchased four white pillar candles and a metallic charger that I lined with evergreens for my Advent wreath. On Sunday evening, I’ll light the first candle.

But, here are a few of my favorite Advent books to read or share with others:

My all-time top of the list is God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I have the Audible version of this and listen to it every year, but I also like to read it. The readings are short, but extremely deep and even more so when you realize Bonhoeffer was writing from his Nazi- guarded prison cell during World War II. If you purchase one book for Advent, this should be the one.

My next most-read Advent book is Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, a collection that includes the writings of various authors, including C.S. Lewis, Henri Nouwen, Annie Dillard, and Kathleen Norris, among many others.

One I purchased several years ago as a Kindle version and will re-read this year is Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent by Enumo Okoro. In the preface, the author says, “Advent is a season to ponder, to listen, to understand that prayer is as much about cultivating stillness and attentiveness as it is about offering our words to God.” It’s not easy to cultivate stillness amidst this busy time, is it? Counter-intuitive, but so nourishing for our souls. At least, for this soul.

Do you observe Advent? Do you have favorite resources?

 

One Book I Hate

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Oh, I’m not one to shy away from saying I hate a book if I do. It’s true that some of the people interviewed on Anne Bogel’s podcast What Should I Read Next say they don’t like to actually admit that they “hate” a book. Whatever.

I tend to have strong reactions to books, especially if I’ve invested many nights reading diligently through them, trying to be patient as I wait for a part worth reading. The chapters plod on, but no dice. I get to the middle and nothing improves, I realize it’s a lost cause. Most of the time, in recent years, I’ve abandoned the book, like a pair of jeans or shoes that just never fit right. Just not for me or at least not right now.

In the case of 11/22/63, however, I kept going. Why? Because it’s Stephen King we’re talking about. He is a master of writing, or at least so I’ve heard. Before this book, I’d only heard others discussing his work, but never had read anything of his for myself. What made me start now? I’m definitely not a horror fan, but know plenty of people who are. This book, as it turns out, is not in the horror genre, but is touted as a time-travel mystery/thriller. I am a reader of mysteries, plus I’d heard plenty of positive reviews and comments about this book, so I had to read it. This past spring, when Alan and I were at a used bookstore, I purchased a copy, and it sat all summer waiting to be read. Alan is in the middle of King’s Dark Tower series, so I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon and read one of his books too. What a mistake!

The book is told from the perspective of a thirty-something high school English teacher who is divorced and doesn’t have anything interesting happening in his life. He gets tangled in a time-travel adventure which involves going back to the late 1950s and attempting to save JFK from assassination. It starts off in Derry, Maine, where “It” lurks, apparently. Since the assassination takes place in Dallas, the protagonist has to relocate there and live until ’63.

All I can say is it drags on and on. Lee Harvey Oswald and his family live in a poor neighborhood. He is abusive, fanatical and downright boring. Day after boring day we get play-by-plays of what he and his wife say or do, who comes to his house, etc. I can’t tell you how I kept looking for something interesting to happen. Yes, there is a romance that brews and a couple of violent and action-filled scenes to shake things up. So I hoped things would improve.

After 850-plus pages, though, the book ends in sadness and futility. Oh my goodness. I felt so angry! What a waste of all those nights reading when I could’ve been reading something else. Although I will give King another chance and read his book entitled On Writing.  And I won’t recommend 11/22/63 to anyone.


Have you read 11/22/63? What did you think?

Too Many Good Books

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Yes, it’s that time again! Time to talk books, that is. I haven’t been reading as much as I’d like as I’m making things to sell at craft fairs. I’m also participating in NanoWriMo, which is thrilling, intimidating, enlivening my writing life and taking up a serious chunk of time this month.

All good stuff and like my daughter noted today, “You’re so much happier, Mom.” So true! I’m doing work I enjoy and living in a place I love.

 

As I said before, I went to the Ithaca public library a few Sundays ago while at Wizarding Weekend and greedily picked up a stack of books that Alan then had to haul through the rainy streets back to the parking garage. He’s a treasure!

Whenever I’m in a library, it’s like a kid going to the dessert table at a family gathering or potluck dinner, piling her plate high with food she couldn’t possibly consume in one sitting. And in the same way, I couldn’t possibly read all those books in one borrowing period, but I can’t help myself–I have to take as many as I can carry.

So, what are the to-be-read books in my current library stack, you ask?

I’ve mentioned Laura Vanderkam’s 168 Hours about time management.

I may not have mentioned Laura Vanderkam’s other book that I borrowed, I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time. This one also has to do with time management. Doesn’t it help to have those real women’s stories to inspire us to get our acts together and do what we dream of doing?

Beartown: A Novel by Fredrik Backman. I must admit to never having read one of his books. What  is wrong with me, right? Not even A Man Called Ove? Nope, not yet. I’ve been following other reading rabbit trails and I am so behind the times. But if I can get to it, I’ll plunge into this one.

The description and stories of other people reading Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng has me curiously wondering what I’ll think of it. I usually don’t pick books other than mysteries where someone dies at the beginning, but Anne Bogel raves about it. Ok, Anne, it’s made it home. Let’s see if I like it as much as your readers do.

Purple Cow, New Edition: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable by Seth Godin was a happy discovery. The library is usually out of his books, plus I’ve read most of his by now. But I heard him talk about this one on a podcast recently, how he dedicated it to a friend and French chef who passed away and decided I should read it.

The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster by Scott Wilbanks intrigued me when I first heard about it. A door to the past and a murder to solve? A must read! Time travel books are some of my favorite fiction reads. (I’m working my way through 11/22/63 right now as well…)

What do you think of this book pile? Have you read any of them? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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